Investigative reports in California veterans home slaying released by Napa authorities
By NASHELLY CHAVEZ | The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif. | Published: June 8, 2019
YOUNTVILLE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — The first Napa County Sheriff's deputy to respond to a report of a gunman at a Yountville veterans home last year rushed into the building where the suspect was thought to have hostages, ignoring his own concerns that his unfamiliarity with the area, paired with dispatch information indicating the gunman had combat experience, put him at dire risk, records released this week by the Napa County Sheriff's Department show.
Steven Lombardi, at the time a 26-year veteran of the sheriff's department, encountered the gunman, disgruntled Army veteran Albert Wong, minutes after his arrival to the Veterans Home of California on March 9, 2018.
The sound of Wong racking his weapon to load ammunition in a second-floor room of The Pathway Home, a live-in treatment program for veterans where he had been a resident, and the subsequent high-pitched scream of one of three women held hostage inside, prompted Lombardi to open fire from a partially open door at the suspect, according to transcripts of Lombardi's interview with investigators days later.
A peek into the room moments prior revealed Wong was carrying a rifle with a mounted light, Lombardi told law enforcement investigators.
"I heard her scream and I fired my gun because I wanted to stop the threat," Lombardi told investigators. "I wanted to save her."
During the exchange of gunfire, Wong fired 22 rifle shots and Lombardi fired 13 rounds, none of which hit Wong, according to a previous report from the Napa County District Attorney's Office.
Eight hours would pass with the 600-acre campus on lockdown and surrounded by armed officers before authorities found Wong dead along with the three Pathway Home caregivers he fatally shot. A subsequent coroner's report found Wong died of a single, self-inflicted shotgun blast to his head.
The transcripts of Lombardi's interview with investigators six days after the incident, maps of the veteran's home campus and dispatch notes were all included in the Sheriff's Department's records release on Tuesday. It was the second batch of such investigative records in the massacre made public by the agency under a new state law that meant to unseal certain police files, including inquiries into police shootings.
In the first batch of files released last month, investigative reports shed light on how Napa deputies attempted to patch together information about Wong the day of the shooting, with two witnesses telling authorities that Wong was unhappy with his care at the program and had previously threatened to kill staff at The Pathway Home before being kicked out, the files indicate.
The victims, Pathway Home Executive Director Christine Loeber, 48; Dr. Jennifer Golick, 42, a therapist; and Dr. Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, 32, a psychologist with the San Francisco Department of Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, were described as the core team for the program. Gonzales Shushereba's unborn child – she was seven months pregnant at the time – also died as a result of the shooting.
Families for each of the women have filed wrongful death suits, faulting the state, local agencies or the now-defunct Pathway Home for either not preventing the attack or failing to do more during the incident.
The new files add more details to the already disturbing portrait of Wong's mental state leading up to the shooting. He was deployed to Afghanistan from April 2011 through March 2012, experiencing combat while overseas. Previous public records and media reports showed Wong had worked up to the bloodshed for weeks after being kicked out of the program. He purchased one firearm after another, stockpiled ammunition and visited the site the day before the attack, propping open the door that would give him access to The Pathway Home building, investigative reports showed.
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